Background to the KELPEX project
Kelp forests are one of the most emblematic ecosystems in the world, forming complex systems that provide a major source of primary production and support rich and diverse communities. However, dramatic changes have occurred in Norwegian kelp forests in the last 4 decades, where about 2000 km2 have become barren under the overgrazing pressure of sea urchins. In the 1990s, a recovery of barren grounds started in mid-Norway and is moving northwards, driven by a decrease in grazing sea urchins. Up to 80% of the kelp production is exported to adjacent ecosystems, but the role played by kelp detritus in fuelling adjacent benthic communities is poorly understood. Quantifying this trophic relationship between kelp forests and benthic ecosystems is timely in northern Norway, where kelp forests both play a major ecological role and are experiencing major regime shifts.
Photo: Janne K. Gitmark
KELPEX is a multidisciplinary project integrating research in kelp forest, biodiversity, coastal and deep-sea ecology and modelling, to determine the role played by kelp export in shaping the structure (abundance, biodiversity) and function (trophic webs) of adjacent ecosystems. KELPEX will quantify experimentally kelp production and export (WP1) and the effect of kelp export will be assessed in shallow-water (WP2) and deep-sea (WP3) communities. We will integrate all results from the field and lab experiments into newly developed ecological models (WP4). KELPEX will take a bulk step forward to determine the role played by kelp export in fuelling adjacent habitats, including effects on benthic ecosystem services (e.g. sustaining commercially exploited species) and will develop a predictive tool from which to assess ecosystem change associated with kelp regime shifts. KELPEX results will thus provide robust scientific knowledge to support decision making and management of arctic ecosystems under different natural and climatic stressors, addressing Norway's strategic priorities for the Arctic.
The overall goal of KELPEX is to quantify kelp production and export and assess the role played by this export in shaping the structure and functioning of communities adjacent to kelp forests, both shallow and deep, in arctic Norway.
KELEPX objectives and structure
KELPEX will answer 3 main questions: 1) Does the quantity and quality of kelp debris vary with environmental factors? 2) Does kelp debris input to the seafloor affect biodiversity and function of shallow- and deep-water benthic communities? and 3) What are the expected benthic ecological changes triggered by kelp regime shifts? These questions will be addressed in field and laboratory work packages (WP1-3) and a modelling WP4 that will develop a predictive tool to assess ecosystem change.